Over 20 years ago, a class assignment was given to interview someone connected with my field of study. I chose to interview a judge that had been at it for probably 40 years. I wanted to try to get a sense of what conclusions he had drawn over his years on the bench that helped him make the judgements that he did.
I remember little about that conversation except for one thing: his philosophy on criminal behavior and the law. I probably remember it because it is an easy formula to remember, but as I have been involved in a career that involves criminal behavior and the law, it is a philosophy with merit.
The old judge believed that, when it comes to the law and following the law, there are three groups individuals fall into. The first group will follow the law without question. The second group will never follow the law, no matter what. The third group needs to be convinced to follow the law. The judge believed that the resources of an institution should be focused on the last third.
Over these 20 plus years I’ve seen this play out and it is a experientially validated theory. What also needs to be shared is was one judge’s theory. It means that this judge may have operated from the bench ruling from his theory, but it is one judge in a roiling sea of judges who rule from very different places.
I’ve also seen administrators in this small corner of the world be driven by very different criteria, but almost certainly with more sinister agendas; not to most intelligently focus resources in order to reduce crime but to exploit segments of the population. For example, if you know that a third of the population is never going to follow the law, no matter what, then those are the ones you target for enforcement, which means fines, fees, court costs, jailing, billing for jail stays, etc. Then comes the matter of access. What is the easiest way to get access to people breaking the law, where the likelihood of conviction is greatest? Why, driving, of course.
Over the years I’ve done criminal history screens of individuals as part of pre-sentencing investigations. It didn’t take me long to see a pattern. Multiple traffic stops, each one with a fine attached. First I would see something like improper turn, driving without a license, failed to yield to traffic, improper equipment, etc. A few months later, the person would have a second incident of driving without a license, driving while license suspended. Like clockwork, the people would be getting pulled over for these petty traffic offenses, each one racking up the fees. Almost as if a report was generated of the incalcitrant to be on the lookout to pull over if seen. (This is strictly my own theorizing and there is no actual proof this is going on.)
As the years of this methodical exploitation of a person of “the second third”, squeezing money from people often least equipped to give money, you’d see an actual criminal element creep into the history. Charges like malicious destruction of property, or resisting and obstructing police (translates to got snippy with police when they got stopped again), or started drinking or drugging because of the stress of having “the system” breathing down their neck all of the time. Landlord-tenant (eviction) disputes started – and continued. This means a person and probably the family attached to that person is becoming homeless. Then you see the person being jailed for failing to appear for hearings. Then jail lodging charges start to get tacked on.
After the death of a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, a few years ago Ferguson, MO the US Justice Department did an investigation of justice practices in Ferguson and came up with findings that absolutely concur with what I found in my local investigation. Take a look: Justice Department investigation of Ferguson, MO
When I started to see the pattern, my lens was not on race, which the Justice Department’s focus included, but more on income levels of those getting serially pulled over.
The second thirds aren’t only in the lower income; however they are able to afford well-maintained vehicles that are less likely to get pulled over; they can afford insurance on their vehicles; they can keep their driver’s license valid; they can stay on top of the fees and fines for the traffic violations. They too are being exploited and bring a pretty penny into the governing coffers.
Should the reason for our justice system be simply to help it perpetuate its continuance? It’s not a symbiotic relationship. It is a parasitic relationship, where one segment of the population makes its livelihood off of another. Not only this, there is the spin that the exploited are, literally, judged as criminals.
Now this is where the essay goes metaphysical. Imagine a place where unwavering obedience to the law – the first third — is not a good thing, but a scary thing. Imagine if unwavering obedience was a crime. Imagine the second third were the revolutionaries. Imagine the third third became convinced to follow them.
Disclaimer (for g*vt. officials who may consider these imaginings tr*itorous): this essay, in no way, shape, or form is endorsing any r*volution and/or act that is tr*itorus to the g*vt.)